Thanks to its many rivers and abundance of livestock equipment, Nebraska has become a hot spot for the unlikely activity of “tanking.” Like a cross between Tilt-O-Whirl and bumper cars, but set on water, tanking involves retrofitting a large, round plastic livestock feeding tank with chairs and tables. Folks then pile in — most tanks can accommodate about 6 people –and enjoy a leisurely float down the river as they meander and turn with the current and take in the sights and sounds.
While Nebraska isn’t the only state that offers tanking trips — there are a handful of outfitters popping up in places like Iowa — it’s by far the most popular. And even though Nebraskans have been doing it for decades, tanking is still relatively unknown outside the Midwest, although that’s slowly starting to change.
Michael Suelter founded Get Tanked in Ericson, NE, in 1987, and claims to be the state’s first tanking outfitter. Today he has nearly 50 tanks, and offers 4-mile trips down the horseshoe-shaped Cedar River, which flows past sandhills and open woodlands thriving with wildlife.
In nearby Burwell, Bruce and Sue Ann Switzer of Calamus Outfitters offer 2- and 5-hour tanking trips down the Calamus River, which gently flows past rolling sandhills where you’re likely spot beavers, muskrats, herons and deer.
In addition to river tanking, Calamus Outfitters has accommodations for up to 65 people at 2 lodges and 4 cabins, along with horseback riding, canoeing and Jeep tours, although tanking remains one of their most popular activities, especially with families. “It’s not really for thrill seekers,” Sue Ann says. “You just relax and go with the flow.”
At the Sandhills Motel in Mullen, NE, Mitch and Patty Glidden offer tanking trips down the spring-fed Middle Loup River, which winds through a valley past lush green meadows and picturesque highlands.
“On a good Saturday we’ll put up to 200 people in the river,” says Mitch Glidden. “It’s really taking off.”
While most tanking outfitters are located in the remote sandhills area of western Nebraska, a few have popped up in the more densely populated eastern side of the state. Steve and Jill Evers enjoyed their tanking excursion so much they opened Tank Down the Elkhorn in Omaha in 2007, which offers a 7-mile trip. Steve says he and his wife both have a blast helping families float down the river, and it supplies supplemental income during the summer when things slow down at his taxidermy business.
And just recently, tanking has finally made its way out of the Midwest. Last year during a business trip, John Johnson came across a Nebraska flyer promoting river tanking. Always looking for new entrepreneurial opportunities, Johnson launched Foothills Outdoor Adventures. Based in Wilkesboro, NC — about 3 hours west of Raleigh — the outfitter offers tanking trips down the Yadkin River, which rises in the Blue Ridge Mountains and flows through the 1,475-acre W. Kerr Scott Reservoir.
“We’re the only one east of the Mississippi doing this,” Johnson says. “We’ve definitely hit on a really good niche market.”
- Sam Boykin